Our “unknown clone” produces wines that are voluptuous and silky, with a smooth mouthfeel and a very nice acid balance. Our 2017 bottling is 100% Semillon and the wine exhibits traditional Semillon notes of fig, but also expresses powerful honeydew melon aromatics and flavors. The wine is 100% barrel fermented in French oak utilizing indigenous yeasts. As we have discussed in other newsletters, Semillon is susceptible to botrytis which produces intense honey-like flavors. The result is that the wine has the positive characteristics of noble rot but also has the additive complexing aspect of an indigenous fermentation. Accordingly, this Semillon is a weighty yet vibrant wine and is perfectly well-suited as an aperitif.
Our 2016 Chardonnay consists of wine blended from two different clones, the Platt-Wente Clone and Clone 4. The wine, as always, is barrel fermented utilizing both native indigenous yeasts and malolactic bacteria, which results in long, cool, and most importantly, complex multi-layered fermentations. This gives us a chardonnay that has layers of flavors that evoke a number of different, and sequential, unique sensations on the palate. The initial impression is that of ripe red apple followed by citrus notes of lemon, lime and orange peel. On the mid-palate the wine exhibits a rich silky mouthfeel with just a nuance of well-integrated French oak. Finally, the wine concludes with a lengthy finish that is supported by good, but not over-powering acidity. The wine’s bright finish allows it to pair well with a variety of foods and soundly avoids the all too often made complaint that a second glass of chardonnay is cloying and palate fatiguing. The previous vintages (2014, 2015) of our Frostwatch bottling were both well received scoring 91 and 93 points in The Wine Spectator respectively and 90 points each from the Wine Enthusiast.
Our decision to make a reserve chardonnay, which we label “Ophira”, is made on a year to year basis. Not surprisingly, we are more likely to make the Ophira in an outstanding vintage (2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016). Each year we taste through each barrel to see if a particular barrel speaks to us, meaning that the barrel stands out above the others and deserves a reserve designation. Given that our fermentations utilize indigenous yeast, aside from oak considerations, each barrel is unique and different because the fermenting yeast and fermentation dynamics are different for each barrel. For the 2016 vintage, only one barrel stood above the others. It was once used, from the Vosges Region in France, which is a frequent favorite for its sweet, nuanced oak accents. The wine is drinking beautifully now but will get even better for several years at a minimum. Please see our tasting notes and reviews for the 2015 Ophira. We are confident this very limited bottling will also be highly regarded.
We believe our Frostwatch Merlot has become one of the benchmarks for New World Merlot. In the interests of brevity, we would posit that our Merlot receives higher acclaim per dollar than pretty much every other Merlot in California. For example, our 2013 received a 94 point score from The Wine Advocate, the 2014 received a 90+ points from the same publication. Looking back, our 2012 Merlot received a 91 point score from the Wine Spectator and was included in Sonoma Magazine’s top 100 wines of the year. Our 2011 bottling also received a 91 point score from The Wine Spectator. If you want a great red wine at a reasonable price—this is it. The 2015 vintage is yet another long lasting Merlot that will impress for 5-15 years.
2015 vintage was extremely low in tonnage and partly because of that, the wines from the vintage are very good. Also contributing to the quality of the vintage was the good weather that promoted even, clean fruit ripening. Our sole complaint was that the cool, moist weather at the critical fruit set window produced loose and small clusters—hence disease free, that ripened without problems in the ensuing good weather during the following months. The “sole” reference applies to the obvious down side (from a grower’s viewpoint--our Swan Clone selection is low yielding to start with--small berries and small clusters) and the 2015 yields were painfully low (1.25 tons per acre). On the upside, we get concentrated wines that promise a long life, coupled with great balance and ripe fruit flavors. On the downside our family will be eating more macaroni and cheese this year, (that’s farming!).
The Frostwatch Kismet (76% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon) is a proprietary blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This White Bordeaux cuvee is based on “mis-plants” later identified as these two varieties which were accidently planted in our original Chardonnay block. After several years of holding the fruit back and making wine in our garage, we came to the conclusion that the blend was something special. We decided to devote more acreage to these mystery clones and make this cuvee on a commercial basis. With consistent high marks from Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine, The Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, this may be as close to a sure thing as you will ever find. Vibrant fruit (peach, apricot, fig) coupled with richness and complexity; this is an alternative white that’s easy to love.
This is our first 100% Semillon bottling! Given that we are usually very enamored by the synergy of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, we were surprised that the 100% Semillon showed so well in our blend trials. Sometimes Semillon can be a little ponderous, but the 2016 Frostwatch Semillon has the right amount of vivacity and overall brightness to balance the weight and viscosity that the Semillon varietal possesses. Our Semillon shows beautiful notes of stone fruit and figs. As with the Kismet, the wine will pair well with seafood and poultry. Furthermore, the wine will compliment pastas with cream-based or butter-based sauces. We think this Semillon is a good wine simply to sip on its own or as an aperitif.
The 2015 vintage was a very good one for Bennett Valley Chardonnay. This wine has continued to round out and expand on that “bell curve” that we seek to achieve regarding all of our Frostwatch wines—bright entry, luscious mid-palate and lengthy finish. Recent reviews for this wine include 93 points from James Laube of The Wine Spectator …“delightfully rich and lively, yet packed with a long layered aftertaste that keeps you coming back for more.”… (As the maker of this wine, I can’t help but point out that the 93 point score put our Frostwatch on par with a $215 Peter Michael Chardonnay!) The wine also earned 90 points from The Wine Enthusiast and a Gold Medal at the 2018 American Fine Wine Competition.
The Ophira Reserve is a barrel selection of the best of the Frostwatch Chardonnay lots from outstanding vintages. 2015 certainly qualified as an outstanding vintage in Bennett Valley. A very temperate growing season coupled with lengthy, complex indigenous fermentations produced beautifully nuanced Chardonnays. The two barrels for our Ophira were selected based on multiple tastings and exhibited exceptional complexity as well as laser-like focused flavors. Much like our regular Chardonnay, critics are consistently finding favor with our Ophira. However, the 2015 has exceeded our expectations being named one of Linda Murphy’s top 100 wines in Sonoma County for the Vintage, garnering Double Gold - 95 Points in the North Coast Wine Challenge, and 96 points from The Somm Journal. Look no further for a proven special occasion wine!
As with our previous Pinots, the 2014 is sourced from the Frostwatch Vineyard which is planted exclusively to the Swan Clone. This clone is known for excellent fruit with small clusters and berries which produce wines with extreme concentration. The 2014 Pinot Noir is a lush and intense wine with powerfully flavored fruit including blackberry, dark cherries with notes of licorice, tobacco and black tea. The mid-palate is full and silky, in part attributable to a monthly lees stirring regimen that spanned the 18months of barrel aging in French Oak. This wine earned Double Gold at the 2018American Fine Wine Competition ($40-$90 category), a Gold Medal 2018 North Coast Wine Challenge, and 90+ points from The Wine Advocate.